Chinese shuttlers march on at Tokyo Games

Tokyo (AFP) –


Chinese badminton players turned up the heat on their Olympic rivals on Friday, winning mixed doubles gold and staying unbeaten in singles competition.

Wang Yilyu and Huang Dongping upset the odds to claim the mixed doubles title with a rare win over compatriots Zheng Siwei and Huang Yaqiong.

The two pairs had met 15 times before the Tokyo final, with Zheng and Huang -- twice world champions and the number one ranked team -- winning on 13 occasions.

But Wang and Huang claimed bragging rights when it mattered, edging a close match 21-17, 17-21, 21-19 to secure the gold.

"My mind went blank after the final point -- it still hasn't sunk in yet," said Wang.

"I had to tell myself, 'if you want to win this gold medal, first you have to win over yourself'."

And Chinese shuttlers also stayed hot in singles competition, with women's number one seed Chen Yufei and number eight He Bingjiao advancing to the semi-finals.

Chen beat South Korea's An Se-young 21-18, 21-19, while He beat Japanese number three seed Nozomi Okuhara 13-21, 21-13, 21-14.

Li Junhui and Liu Yuchen also reached the final of the men's doubles with a 24-22, 21-13 win over Malaysia's Aaron Chia and Soh Wooi Yik.

They will play Taiwan's Lee Yang and Wang Chi-lin, who beat Indonesia's Mohammad Ahsan and Hendra Setiawan 21-11, 21-10.

China's two men's singles representatives -- Chen Long and Shi Yuqi -- are both still unbeaten.

In women's singles, He and Chen will square off for a place in the final.

"I made some mistakes, but the important thing was to adjust during the match, and that's what I did," said Chen.

After losing to He, Okuhara said she hoped Japan's younger generation could learn from her shortcomings, after joining compatriot Kento Momota in an early exit.

Men's top seed Momota didn't even make it out of the group stage after losing to South Korea's Heo Kwang-hee in a stunning upset on Wednesday.

A tearful Okuhara, the former world number one and world champion, urged Japan's next wave of players to be on their guard at the 2024 Paris Games.

"There is no common reason why there have been upsets, but we all have things we need to improve on," the 26-year-old said.

Indian world champion P.V. Sindhu and Taiwan's number two seed Tai Tzu-ying will meet in the other women's semi-final.

Sindhu ousted Japan's Akane Yamaguchi 21-13, 22-20, while Tai beat Thailand's Ratchanok Intanon 14-21, 21-18, 21-18.

Sindhu said she was not paying attention to China's gathering momentum.

"It doesn't matter to me -- it just matters who I'm going to play in the next match, because the next one is important," she said.

But Japanese disappointment at Yamaguchi and Okuhara's exits was lightened by the country's first-ever medal in mixed doubles.

Yuta Watanabe and Arisa Higashino claimed bronze, beating Hong Kong's Tang Chun-man and Tse Ying-suet 21-17, 23-21.

"We were under so much pressure and there were so many expectations," said Watanabe. "I tried to enjoy it, but there were so many times I thought I was going to collapse under the pressure or run away from it."

Watanabe also became the first Japanese man ever to win an Olympic badminton medal.

"I feel very humble and happy that my name will go down in history," he said.

"We wanted to win gold, but I think this can make a small contribution to Japanese badminton."